There have been several moments that have tugged at fan’s heartstrings throughout NBA history. Some have been moments of triumph and others have been heartbreakingly tragic. In these moments, it didn’t matter who your favorite team was. The whole basketball community banded together and celebrated or mourned.
Six Times We Cheered or Cried in NBA History
Willis Reed Limps Out of the Tunnel
It was Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. The New York Knicks had just gotten pummeled in Game 6 with Willis Reed out of the lineup and it looked like he wouldn’t be playing in the deciding game of the series either. Then Reed made his way out to the court and won the game for the Knicks before it even began. There is no greater example of lifting a team emotionally in the history of sports. Reed is credited with the Knicks’ victory even more than the best player that night, Walt Frazier.
Reed did not provide much physically, which is understandable since he wasn’t even expected to play, but the energy he gave his teammates and the fans at Madison Square Garden was more valuable than any basket, block, steal, or assist. Frazier finished the game with 22 points, 19 assists, and seven rebounds but Reed was undoubtedly the hero.
Drazen Petrovic Dies in a Car Crash
On June 7th, 1993, the basketball world suffered one of its greatest losses. Drazen Petrovic died in a car crash in Germany. Petrovic had achieved fame as a member of the Yugoslavia national basketball team in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He was respected internationally and was renowned as one of the greatest shooters and scorers the game had ever seen. He just finished the best season of his young NBA career, earning All NBA Third team honors and helped the New Jersey Nets make the playoffs. With Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, and Petrovic, the Nets looked on the path to greatness. The Croatian star’s untimely death derailed what most likely would have been a great NBA career. Everyone from Clyde Drexler to Michael Jordan offered their condolences upon his passing. But perhaps no one in the league felt it more than Vlade Divac.
Michael Jordan Wins the Championship on Father’s Day
After returning to the NBA in 1995, Jordan rose back to the championship ranks after a historic 72 win season. He shockingly retired in ’93 while at the top of his game. He had just led the Chicago Bulls to a three-peat and was the best player in the game. Many believe the tragic murder of his father a few months prior was the main factor in his decision to walk away from basketball. Jordan pursued baseball for nearly two years before emphatically stating “I’m Back”. 15 months after he sent the fax heard ’round the world, Jordan won his fourth NBA title and Finals MVP.
This victory was bittersweet as it was his first without his father by his side. The fact that it came on Father’s Day was undoubtedly a painful reminder that his dad was gone. After the game, Jordan went into the locker room, collapsed on the floor and wept uncontrollably. The entire world watched and felt his pain. Jordan and the Bulls eventually got to the champagne but at that moment, the team collectively supported their teammate in his emotional moment.
Magic Johnson Wins All-Star Game MVP
Despite abruptly retiring prior to the 1991-’92 season, fans still voted Magic Johnson as a starter for the All-Star game. There was some apprehension to Johnson playing in the game but he was eventually welcomed with open arms and went on to put on a legendary performance. Many were skeptical about Johnson’s ability to play after his layoff, but he quickly put all doubts to rest about whether he could still get it done. Johnson finished with 25 points and nine assists and walked away with the MVP. The game left people clamoring for a comeback which would happen a few years later when Johnson returned to play for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996.
Magic Johnson Announces His Retirement
Whatever emotions Magic Johnson’s aforementioned All-Star Game performance evoked, his retirement announcement three months earlier summoned the exact opposite. This wasn’t only heart-wrenching for basketball fans, but for everyone. At the time, HIV was considered a death sentence. Having one of the most beloved athletes in America announce that he had contracted the disease was utterly devastating. There was concern and fear for Johnson and his well being. Even though he flashed his famous million-dollar smile and was optimistic in his speech, many feared the worst. While Johnson obviously overcame the disease, the following months were filled with angst and uncertainty from fans worldwide. Johnson’s press conference and the announcement was one of the most tragic moments in NBA history.
Len Bias Passes Away
Len Bias passed away from cardiac arrest two days after being taken number two overall by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 draft. His death rocked the nation and its ripple effects are still felt today. Bias was widely considered to be the next big thing in the NBA. Many considered him equal to Michael Jordan. His death left basketball fans with arguably the greatest “What If” scenarios in the history of the league. His passing was especially tragic because he had such a promising career ahead of him. The University of Maryland star was destined to take the league by storm and be the next big superstar. But Bias never got the chance to realize his potential. Shortly after returning to his dorm on the morning of June 22, 1986, Bias had a seizure and collapsed. He was never revived and was pronounced dead later that morning.
In a time when drug use was an issue in the NBA as well as the country as a whole, the involvement of cocaine in his death put a dark cloud over the league and the subject of recreational drug use amongst athletes became a serious topic of concern. Many called Bias the “best player they ever saw” and he was expected to take the league by storm the same way his college rival did two years earlier. He could have been one of the greatest players in NBA history.
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